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Ordinance targets buses at beaches

By Staff | Nov 7, 2013

Pouring over one of the longest meeting agendas before the Sanibel City Council, discussions broke out Tuesday over the draft legislation meant to prohibit buses dropping off and picking up large numbers of beachgoers at Sanibel beach parking lots and city streets, such as the Norita Street access.

The draft legislation centered on vehicles stopping in city right-of-way to discharge passengers headed to the beaches. It cites prohibiting “any bus, van or other passenger vehicle with a seating capacity of 10 or more passengers in any city beach parking lot” unless there exists a lawful and authorized parking space to accommodate the vehicle “and the applicable parking fee is paid.”

Such an ordinance has been pitched by concilmembers before, which led to staff drawing up the current draft measure.

Vice Mayor Doug Congress said he could not support such an ordinance.

“It tells people that Sanibel is not open for business,” Congress said. “We need to look at the unintentional consequences of this. If you have 40 people on a bus that is ticketed that’s 40 people leaving Sanibel with a bad experience and believe me their will post it on Trip Advisor and other social media. I don’t think we want that message for Sanibel.”

Then there is the enforcement aspect of such an ordinance.

Resident Barbara Cooley gave council her thought on the measure.

“Beach carrying capacity,” she said frankly. “Busloads dropping off and picking up passengers circumvents our method of preserving our beaches from being damaged or abused, which is by limiting our parking lots. I think we need to be proactive before it becomes a bigger problem. I don’t think (the activity) is a benefit to our island businesses.”

Sanibel Police Chief William Tomlinson was quizzed about how the situation is currently handled.

“We can cite them for obstructing the flow of traffic by state statute,” Tomlinson said. “Of course, we have to see it happen. There are not enough resources to patrol the lots now.”

Each councilman agreed that the fines for violating the ordinance are too low at $35 to $100 and not a significant deterrent.

Council voted 3-1 to add in some flexibility about the fine amount and bring the legislation back to council at the Dec. 3 meeting for the first reading with no public comment. Public comment would be taken at the second reading of the ordinance at a later date.

In other council business Tuesday, Public Works Department employee Josh Holler was recognized as the employee of the fourth quarter of the fiscal year.

Council also addressed a water quality report update, an ordinance amending the Sanibel Code of Ordinances regarding permitted and conditional use business applications, and the ongoing flood insurance debate.

The ordinance amendment is the result of the permitted and conditional use conditions for applications addressed and argued through the Sanibel Planning Commission in recent months. Part of that amendment waives the permit fees for only the first applicant to bring forward a new business use not listed. Subsequent applications for that business use would be charged the normal fees.

Acting Planning Department director Roy Gibson pointed out three new uses added to the permitted list – home inspection & home watch services; office sharing; and professional studios involving the teaching of dance and fine arts.

Ruane shared more information about his and Lee County officials visit to Washington, D.C., in October for a Congressional briefing on the Lake Okeechobee water releases.

“We are continuing to work through the appropriations people on water quality,” said Ruane. “Our trip came early in the shutdown which I think was to our benefit. We got the ears of a lot of people. It is a team effort and we have to be patient. The passage of the WRRDA Bill is a step in the right direction.”

Director of Natural Resources James Evans updated council on the current water situation.

“Discharges are down to 600 cubic-feet per second from the 3,000 cfs it was just two weeks ago,” Evans said. “Lake O’s water level is at 15.09 feet compared to 15.69 at this time last year. “There is not a lot of rain associated with cold fronts this time of year, so we likely could be begging for water for the estuary again in March. It’s an unfortunate situation.”

The new FEMA flood maps came up for discussion, but with the introduction of an amendment in the U.S. Senate aimed at delaying implementation of significantly higher flood insurance rates for three to four years council took no immediate action.

“This is still evolving,” said Ruane. “We need to wait and see how the amendment plays out and bring this back in a month or so.”

One more humorous item was addressed needing approval of a $530,000 grant from the Tourist Development Council for restroom construction at Tarpon Bay Beach.

A $530,000 restroom?

“That building must meet the new flood regulations,” city manager Judie Zimomra pointed out. “It will not be a Taj Mahal. It will have industrial strength fixtures and such like any other restroom on the island.”